Put That in Your Ballot Box and Smoke It

By Sarah Birnbaum

Mar. 6, 2012

BOSTON — Lawmakers held a public hearing on Tuesday on a bill that would allow Massachusetts to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana as it currently does liquor and tobacco. 

Rep. Ellen Story (D-Amherst), the sponsor of the bill, said the measure would benefit public health and the state’s pocketbook. 

“One [reason] is that this is in the interest of public health, so that if marijuana is regulated, you know what you are buying. And the other is the state needs more money. This would allow the state to benefit from the sale of marijuana by taxing it,” she said.

Her testimony earned some scattered applause from the packed hearing room.

But Kevin Sabet of the advocacy group the Massachusetts Prevention Alliance, said that marijuana is dangerous, especially for teens, and should not be legalized.

“Today’s marijuana is not your grandfather’s pot," he said. "This is the marijuana that is much more harmful. It’s grown purposefully to enhance the THC which creates the high in the drug and therefore we’re seeing increases in emergency room admissions, increases in mental health issues — especially schizophrenia, increases in driving accidents.”

Despite a huge public turnout in support of the bill, observers said the measure probably won’t pass. But there will likely be a separate ballot measure in the fall that will ask voters to legalize medical marijuana. In 2008, voters changed Massachusetts law so those caught with a small amount of marijuana face only a fine and not criminal charges.
> >  Read the bill.

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